Iran frees British-Australian woman but other remains in jail over spying claims

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

A British-Australian woman and her boyfriend have been released from detention in Iran, but a female academic of the same nationality is still being held over spying accusations.

Jolie King and Australian Mark Firkin were "released and returned" and all charges against them were dropped, but British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert is still in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison - where she has been for almost a year.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne told reporters that it was “with some enormous relief” that she could make the announcement.

In a statement, the couple said: "We are extremely happy and relieved to be safely back in Australia with those we love.

"While the past few months have been very difficult, we know it has also been tough for those back home who have been worried for us."

The couple said they now plan to "get back to (their) normal lives" and asked for privacy.

They said: "We know there are others who remain in detention in Iran, including a fellow Australian, and believe intense media coverage may not be helpful for efforts to bring them home."

  • ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot says the wait goes on for the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

It has been reported the couple may have been granted their release as part of a prisoner swap.

At the same time they were released, Iran's state TV reported that an Iranian scientist, Reza Dehbashi, who was detained for 13 months in Australia over purchasing a defense system for his country from the United States, had returned home.

"Very long-term negotiations" were taking place to secure the release of the Cambridge-educated academic, Ms Payne added.

Dr Moore-Gilbert - who has reportedly been handed a 10-year sentence - is a Cambridge-educated academic who was most recently a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Melbourne University.

Evin prison in Tehran is also holding British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Credit: PA

Earlier, Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars reported that the Islamic Republic’s judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmayeeli confirmed all three were detained for spying.

Evin prison, the main detention centre for Iran’s political prisoners, also houses 41-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one who is midway through a five year sentence, also on spying charges which began in 2016.

The University of Melbourne’s website lists Dr Moore-Gilbert on its “Find an expert” page as a lecturer at the university’s Asia Institute.

It says she “specialises in Middle Eastern politics, with a particular focus on the Arab Gulf states,” and that she had published work on the 2011 Arab uprisings, authoritarian governance and on the role of new media technologies in political activism.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed in 2016. Credit: PA

Dr David Malet, who served on Dr Moore-Gilbert’s dissertation committee, has previously described her as a “wonderful person and a serious scholar, not a spy”.

Ms King and Mr Firkin, who left their home in Perth, Western Australia, in 2017, had been posting updates on their trip across Asia on social media before being arrested.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili saying two people, thought to be British-Australian blogger Ms King and her boyfriend Mr Firkin, had been detained for using a drone to take pictures and video of military areas and other unauthorised zones.

Ms Payne said that following their release they were in “good health and in good spirits” after being reuinted with their families.